Running Geek: You Can Run a Marathon

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Running-FordQuote
“Whether you believe that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right,” Henry Ford.

I came across this great quote from Henry Ford in the middle of the woods during an 18 mile, four-hour trail run recently, and it really struck a chord with me. I am a firm believer that almost anyone can do a marathon. I don’t mean anyone can go out right this second and complete one, but I do believe that with some training, and the right amount of belief and willpower in one’s self, it is possible.

When I tell people that I’ve run a bunch of marathons and half-marathons and that I’m currently training for my first 50K trail race, they often think I’m crazy or say things like, “Wow, I could never do that.” I get where they are coming from, though, because I used to be exactly the same way.

Me in my natural habitat at age 13.
Me in my natural habitat at age 13.

A little background on me and running: up until about seven years ago, I was the opposite of what anyone would call a “runner.” In high school, I was the last kid to finish the mile–usually in the 13 to 14 minute range. And even then I was red-faced, out of breath, and felt like puking. Running and I were not friends–we were enemies. I vowed never to run unless I had to.

It should come as no surprise, then, that by the time I was 21–with no desire to do any real exercise, especially not running, and plenty of desire to sit in front of a computer as much as possible–I found myself looking at a scale that read “256” (I’m six feet even). But even that wasn’t enough to turn me around; it just made me stop using the scale. I’m not sure how much weight I gained after that, but I’m going to conservatively guess I made it to at least 265.

I finally decided to do something about it, but I still refused to run. Through a combination of Pilates, starving myself, doing lots of DIY projects on my house, and Metabolife (yes, I took a ton of this crap and managed not to die) I shed a lot of weight very quickly without actually being healthy at all.

Another six years went by and I found myself, through a complete lack of effort on my part, in poor shape again with a lot of weight back on when a friend, also not a runner, told me that she was going to train for a marathon. I said the same things I often hear–“That’s crazy! Marathons are for athletes! I could never do that!” But, after 8 months of training, she finished her first marathon and loved the hell out of it.

Inspired by her success, I signed up for the same training group the following year. It was a huge turning point for me. I could run AND enjoy it. Maybe running and I weren’t enemies after all. Maybe we could become friends? I know a lot of people love the camaraderie that comes with running groups and races, and it can be motivating and inspiring, but I also learned to enjoy the solitude of running alone in a group of people–getting lost in those crowds, my breath and heart in my ears, I found and lost myself all at once.

I trained and did 2 half-marathons and 2 full marathons in my first year as a runner. Unfortunately, I kept having injuries that would slow me down. I went through half a dozen pairs of shoes trying to correct them, fixing one problem but causing another–runner’s knee, planar fasciitis and IT Band pain to name a few.

The second year, with injuries continually occurring, I became disheartened and thought that maybe running wasn’t for me after all. Maybe I had been right and running long distance was for “real” athletes.

With no races, little training, and the year coming to an end, I heard about and read a new book–Christopher MacDougall’s Born To Run. I decided to give running one more chance. In the subsequent year, I ran two marathons and two half-marathons. I beat my marathon PR by almost 30 minutes and my half-marathon PR by almost 20 minutes! And the best part was that, through all the training and races, I didn’t miss a single day due to injury. Minimalist running was the puzzle piece I had been missing. Running and I could now actually be good friends.

Over the next three years, I did another five half-marathons, one marathon and several 5K and 10K races. Although I’d made some improvements in my running form and times, I’d gotten stuck in a rut. My wife and I also had a baby, which severely hampered my ability and desire to get up early and go running. It was hard to sacrifice what little time I had outside of going to the office doing anything other than hanging out with my little geek.

But last year I decided to take back running for myself. I felt I needed to, not only for myself, but as an example to my son. I had no real role-model for being healthy or fit growing up, and so I wasn’t. I wanted him to be able to look up to me as he grows and see someone who can balance being healthy and fit with having family and work responsibilities and being a geek, so I decided to bite the bullet, set some goals, and hire a running coach.

I set three major running goals–sub 4:00 marathon, sub 2:00 half-marathon, qualifying for Boston–and two stretch goals–completing my first ultra race and placing in my age group in a race. I then looked up Eric Orton, the coach of Christopher MacDougall from Born to Run, and started online distance training with him.

I’ve mentioned before that I am a total geek for data, and when it comes to running, there is a ton of data to be gathered from all of my apps and gadgets. I’ll be writing more about all of those in the future, but here is just a small taste of the metrics I’m tracking, and how far I’ve come with my coach in just one year.

Distance Pre-Training Post-Training
1 Mile 8:11 6:46
5K 27:28 24:07
10K 1:10:56 50:58
Half-marathon 2:01:52 1:48:59
Marathon 4:30:20 3:57:51

With less than a year of training, I significantly shaved a lot of time off of all my races. I was shocked when I ran a mile, at 36 years-old, in half the time I did when I was 13.

I also have been keeping track of some body metrics (more data!) via my scale, the Omron HBF-514C.

 Date 1/5/2014 4/16/2014 6/23/2014 Today
 Weight  171.6 162.7 164.0  166.2
 Body Fat % 23.4 20.3 19.9  21.6
 Muscle % 36.3 37.5 37.9  36.9
 Visceral Fat 6 4 4  5
 Body Age 44 40 40  42
Me at the high point of the Crystal Mountain course with Mt. Rainier in the background.
Me at the high point of the Crystal Mountain course with Mt. Rainier in the background.

This past year showed me that training with a coach, especially the structure and accountability it provides, can make a world of difference. I not only met two of my three major running goals in my first year of training, but I also achieved my two stretch goals–I did the Crystal Mountain Sky Marathon, which is considered an ultra due to the extreme elevation changes, and I placed second in my age group at the Cougar Mountain Marathon.

My son, Owen, doing his first race, the Disney Avengers Kids' Race.
My son, Owen, doing his first race, the Disney Avengers Kids’ Race.

With all of that under my belt, it all pales in comparison to the greatest achievement of the year–my son running his first race! I did the Disneyland Avengers half-marathon, and Disney have a handful of Kids’ Races as part of the series. He did the 100 yard dash, his first in, hopefully, a very long line of races as he grows up.

Here is my race schedule for the year. Look for more about them as they happen.

  • 1/17-1/18 – Disney Star Wars Rebel Challenge: This was a 10K on Saturday followed by a half marathon on Sunday. It was also my son’s second race! You can read my race report on my personal blog.
  • 5/9 – Lost Lake 50K: This will be just as (if not more) challenging as the Crystal Mountain Sky Marathon but the longest distance I’ve ever run!
  • 6/13 – Seattle Rock n Roll half marathon. This is a local regular for me that I’ll try to PR again this year.
  • 8/9 – Angels’ Staircase 35K. This was supposed to be my big race last year. It but got cancelled due to wildfires, so I’m going to try again.
  •  9/19 – Crystal Mountain Sky Marathon. This race was just too incredible not to do again.
Running geeks collect shiny metal bling.
Running geeks collect shiny metal bling.

I hope that I can help to inspire other geeks and dads to be healthy and to be good health role-models for our kids. Plus, who doesn’t like shiny collectibles? Yes, those are Star Wars medals. I hope you’ll follow me on my journey this year as I train for more races, and I promise I’ll include more info about my gadgets, apps, and data next time!

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14 thoughts on “Running Geek: You Can Run a Marathon

  1. Thanks so much for this article! Not to share a sob story but I’m about to finish up a year’s worth of cancer treatment and one of the things I’ve put on the post-treatment “I have to do this” list is to run a marathon. I’ll probably come back to this article from time to time when I start training. And, I’m pretty sure I may have to sign up for the Star Wars Rebels Challenge. That sounds spectacular. Thanks again for the dose of inspiration this morning!

    1. Thanks for sharing your story and congratulations on getting through the treatment! I’m glad my story has inspired you and if you need any more advice or want to chat about getting started, feel free to reach out! I highly recommend getting on the email list for the Star Wars race as it tends to sell out VERY quickly once registration opens (June 16th). http://www.rundisney.com/star-wars-half-marathon/.

      1. Hey Will, I just wanted to give you a quick update from my earlier comment. I officially finished treatment just over a week ago (5/10) and decided to celebrate by running a 5K this past weekend (5/16) and finished in under 38 minutes. I did so some training for a few weeks prior so it wasn’t completely spur of the moment. I have some lung obstacles to overcome before I can really start making better times but I’m happy with my time. I also found a local half-marathon this December that I’m training for. It doesn’t look like the Star Wars race is going to happen for me this go-round but I’ll hopefully be able to do it next time around. Thank you again for the article and the inspiration!

        1. Congratulations! 38 minutes is an amazing first 5K time especially considering all that you’ve been through. Keep up the great work and good luck on the half-marathon. Please let me know how it goes. And maybe next year I’ll see you at the Star Wars race!

  2. I’ve been wanting to get (back?) into running. I did some last year, but never really did long distances, and only on the treadmill (pacing on the road was tricky) Anyways, Those Star Wars medals alone are enough to make me want to get into it.. those are awesome!

    1. Thanks for reading! I highly recommend getting on the email list for the Star Wars race as it tends to sell out VERY quickly once registration opens (June 16th). http://www.rundisney.com/star-wars-half-marathon/. Sometimes a treadmill or even a local high school track, is the best place to train initially to learn how your body responds to pacing and distance. I would say start small – maybe a Couch to 5K training plan. It’s something you could easily do all your training for on a treadmill and will give you a nice goal at the end. With that under your belt, you can move on to a longer race like a 10K or half to get some Star Wars bling!

  3. Thanks for the article! It’s a great read. I didn’t find running until much later in life. I’d hurt my knee pretty bad last year and have been kinda lazy getting back into things. A shiny Star Wars medal might be the motivation I need to get my butt in gear.

    1. Thanks for reading! I highly recommend getting on the email list for the Star Wars race as it tends to sell out VERY quickly once registration opens (June 16th). http://www.rundisney.com/star-wars-half-marathon/ It is always tough to get back in to running after an injury. I actually had to drop out of a race I had scheduled for this Saturday and switch to a different race next month because I fractured a rib last weekend! I tend to injure myself doing non-running things that then impact my running and its really annoying 🙂

  4. Thanks for the post! I’d love to hear more about the tech you’re using (I’m a bit of data geek as well). I find the scale interesting. It looks like the Omron (Omnom? lol) provides very good accuracy, but doesn’t have any “smarts” to auto-upload your data to an app. I would appreciate hearing your experience on picking out a scale (whoop, there’s an exciting topic, hey) as I’m in the process of trying to pick out a smart scale (the Fitbit Aria is near the top of my list).

    Cheers!

    1. It is the Omron. Mine is actually a slightly older model than the one currently available. I’ve had it for quite awhile and its lasted so I haven’t upgraded to a newer “smart” scale. Until this one dies or someone sends me a new scale, I just track the data manually. When I was originally looking, the idea that it has both foot and hand sensors that are used for measuring body fat and muscle percentage increasing accuracy over a foot only scale is what won me over. I’ve read a lot about measuring body fat with a scale and pretty much everything I’ve read says they are horribly inaccurate for most people because they are all based on some average measurements that most people don’t fall within. That being said, what I feel is more important is using the same scale over time to measure progress. Even if the body fat measurement is “wrong” by 2 or 10%, if it goes up or down by 5%, I know if I’m going in the right direction or not! I have looked at the Fitbit Aria, and its on my list of possible future scales. I’ll definitely be writing another post about my Fitbit, my watch, and all my apps! Thanks for reading!

  5. I love your story! I wish we had a Star Wars run here in WA! Have you done any of the Zombie Runs? I got started running with the Zombies, Run app back when I couldn’t run a whole lap on a track. I lost 45lbs since then and am running pretty regularly (http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2013/12/01/gaming-and-motivation/). I have run a half marathon but haven’t made the leap to running a full marathon yet. 🙂

    Do you run the Rhody Run in Port Townsend? I’ll be running that one next. When you say you’ve gone minimalist is it by wearing shoes with little to no support? Did that work better for you? See I’ve been suffering from calf injuries and plantar fascitis as well. I wear NB shoes with great support and it seems when I run on my toes to sprint my calves get injured again. And lately, after healing my plantar fascitis by wearing Birkenstocks (yeah, it worked) it’s coming back on my left foot! I’m older than you but I’d really love to continue running without so many injuries. I’m still a new runner but I was very proud at finishing the half marathon in 2hours 3minutes.

    1. Thanks for reading! Man, 2 hours and 3 minutes is a great time! My first half time ever, after 3 months of training was 2:34. Congrats!

      I absolutely love ‘Zombies! Run.’ It will be making an appearance in my next post about the gear and apps that I use. Before I started my training with my coach last year that was the only thing that got me out of bed and into my running shoes!

      As for the shoes (insert disclaimer about I’m not a doctor and everyone is different), I found that moving to a minimalist shoe (and I’ll go into more details on those in my next post too), something like Vibram Five Fingers or the Merrell Trail Glove, that had a zero drop and very little support, I completely changed my running form. The key, from my experience is to move to a mid foot strike, going all the way to a forefoot strike (on your toes) will put more stress on your calves and your feet – which might explain the sore calves and increased plantar fasciitis. And, of course, a slow transition is probably the most important. When I first started minimalist shoes, I went 3 miles (which seemed like nothing at the time) and I couldn’t walk the next day! I had to start over and take it slow. Doing maybe a mile or even just a half running with my new form and minimalist shoes. I even did a couple of short easy runs barefoot on grass to just get the feel of the new form down.

      While I’ve six full marathons, the half distance is my favorite. It doesn’t feel too easy but it also doesn’t take up my whole day 🙂 That being said, I am about to do a 50K (in Bremerton.) I’ve not heard of the Rhody Run but I’ll check it out.

      Good luck with your running and keep me posted on your training and racing!

      1. Thanks, Will (for the info and for the half marathon grats). 🙂

        Zombies, Run! is great and I’m looking forward to Season 4! There has also been a Zombie Run that I’ve done for the past two summers way in McCleary and this year it’s not until Nov 14 (http://thezombierun.com/seattle-olympia/). It’s a 5k but with obstacles and hungry zoms! They seemed to have combined The Zombie Run 5K (which had no obstacles, just zoms) and the Run for Your Lives 5K which had tons of obstacles but are just calling it The Zombie Run. I ran it with my 17 year old son. Lots of fun.

        I have been reading up on minimalist shoes but have been too scared to take the plunge. Retraining running form seems like hard work and I’m just happy to be running! I have read lots of success stories going minimalist so maybe my time should come sooner than later. I’ve read about running barefoot on grass to get the feel for how to run with no support. Maybe I’ll start doing that a bit this summer.

        Dude, good luck with the 50K! That sounds awesome! The Rhody is a 12K and is happening May 17. I’m thinking of registering for the Defiance 15K trail run in December (I was happy they had a 15K!). I love running trails but I’ve been twisting my ankles (one twice and the other once!). I’m a bit trail shy after those twists. Took me 6 months to heal the first one; it was a real bad sprain.

        Looking forward to your next post, Will!

        1. Interesting. I may have to try out the Zombie Run. Its after my last race of the “season” so might be a fun diversion during my down time 🙂

          My 50K is May 9th and then I have the Seattle Rock n Roll half on June 13th so I probably won’t squeeze the Rhody in this year – maybe next year! Now that I’m doing trail running, I much prefer them over road races. They are just a lot more interesting and stimulating to the brain! Chance of injury does definitely increase though. I don’t think I’ve done a long trail run where I haven’t been injured at least a little bit (usually just a stubbed toe or a bloody knee or elbow).

          Good luck on your races!

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